Is Your Seltzer Habit Causing Problems With Your Gut Health?

Many of us drink sparkling water every single day, and some people even throw back multiple cans of seltzer per day. But every once in a while, some information pops up on social media claiming that all that carbonation isn’t great for you ― particularly for your digestion and can cause issues like bloating, reflux and irritating IBS symptoms. But is that really true? 

To find out, we got in touch with board-certified gastroenterologists and registered dietitians to learn more about the potential impact of drinking sparkling water. Here’s what you need to know about how sparkling water affects digestion and gut health and whether it’s safe to drink every day. 

Is sparkling water bad for gut health?

You may have heard that sparkling water causes bloating and other gut health problems. But the truth is, it depends. People with some gut health conditions may experience side effects when drinking sparkling water, but most others are OK. 

“Sparkling water can have both positive and negative effects on gut health, depending on individual sensitivity and the type of sparkling water consumed,” said Dr. Kenneth Brown, a board-certified gastroenterologist in Texas.

On the whole, the experts we spoke with agreed that for most people, drinking sparkling water shouldn’t cause any problems.

“Sparkling water has the potential to cause reflux symptoms, gas or bloating in anyone,” said Dr. Peter Stein, board-certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine and director of endoscopy at Phelps Hospital and Northern Westchester Hospital in New York. “With that said, most people do not experience these symptoms when drinking a can of sparkling water.” 

But if you have a condition like IBS or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or if you regularly experience bloating, gas and other gastrointestinal symptoms, drinking sparkling water can trigger symptoms. This is mainly an issue because of the carbonation — when drinking sparkling water, you’re adding more gas to an already sensitive stomach, explained Kaytee Hadley, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Richmond, Virginia.

“Carbonated water can trigger reflux in [people] with gastroesophageal reflux disease and bloating, gas and diarrhea in people with irritable bowel syndrome,” Hadley said.

People with minor gut issues may be able to drink plain sparkling water, but you may want to limit or avoid carbonated drinks if you have significant gastrointestinal conditions, Brown said. 

Not all seltzers and sparkling waters are created equal.
Not all seltzers and sparkling waters are created equal. Juj Winn via Getty Images

Look out for additives.

Aside from the carbonation, some sparkling water causes digestive issues because of additives. Many sparkling water products are nothing more than carbonated water. But others — especially the flavored types — might contain additives like artificial sweeteners and sugars. 

More research is needed to better understand how artificial sweeteners impact gut health, but Brown said people with conditions like IBS or SIBO may have trouble digesting them, which could lead to bloating, gas, cramping and general discomfort. Additionally, he explained that those additives can disrupt your gut microbiome and worsen symptoms for those with sensitive digestive systems or conditions like colitis and Crohn’s disease. 

“Research shows that artificial sweeteners alter the gut microbiome,” said Emily Spurlock, a registered dietitian at the Institute For Digestive Wellbeing. If someone is going to drink sparkling water, go for one with minimal ingredients — avoid artificial sweeteners and any added sugar or juice.”

Can drinking sparkling water be a good thing?

Drinking sparkling water has benefits as long as you’re not prone to digestive symptoms. 

“For many, carbonated water can help the digestive process and relieve symptoms like gas and bloating by encouraging burping, which relieves pressure,” Brown said. “It can also enhance hydration and benefit overall gut health, especially for those who struggle to drink enough plain water.”

How much sparkling water is too much? 

Drinking water is really important to your overall health. In fact, any water is better than none, said Dr. Alexandra Gutierrez, professor of medicine and medical director at the IBD Center in Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. 

No specific amount of sparkling water is said to be unsafe, but if you’re experiencing side effects like bloating and gas after drinking sparkling water, you should consider cutting back, the doctors we spoke with for this piece said. 

“An individualized approach is best,” Hadley said. “Listen to your body, and if you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms, decrease the amount or stop drinking it altogether.”

Most people can drink sparkling water without problems.

Long story short, drinking plain sparkling water can be a perfectly acceptable (and, of course, enjoyable) way to stay hydrated — as long as it doesn’t cause or exacerbate bloating and other digestive issues. 

“It is a great alternative to sodas, alcoholic beverages, or juices — all of which can have deleterious effects on the GI tract and overall health,” Stein said. 

As with other foods and drinks, it’s key to pay attention to how you feel — and cut back or even kick your sparkling water habit if it’s making you feel bad. “The important thing is for people to listen to their bodies,” Spurlock said, “and avoid things they don’t tolerate.”